Mike Soroka isn't considering a cautious approach to his comeback from a torn Achilles' tendon after throwing on the opening day of spring training for the Atlanta Braves.
"Really, on the mound I am ready to compete," he said.
Soroka started the Braves' season opener last July before tearing his right Achilles' tendon in his third start of the year. The 23-year-old right-hander from Canada needed surgery before beginning his recovery with the goal of being ready to open the 2021 season.
Atlanta pitchers and catchers had their first workout Thursday in North Port, Florida, and manager Brian Snitker said Soroka "looked really good" while throwing.
"I feel amazing," said Soroka, who noted his arm feels as strong as normal for the start of spring.
The question, of course, is the health of Soroka's right leg. He said the Achilles' tendon is strong, but he acknowledged he still has to build up the strength in his calf, knee and hip.
Even so, Soroka had a quick answer when asked if it would be smart to avoid trying to be ready by the April 1 opener, a road game against the Philadelphia Phillies.
"Obviously my response to that is I'll tell you I could be ready to compete right now," he said.
Soroka was an All-Star in 2019, when he was 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA and finished second in the voting for the top rookie honor in the National League. Soroka is again expected to lead the rotation's young foundation that includes Max Fried, who turned 27 last month, 25-year-old Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson, 22.
The Braves signed veterans Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly to one-year deals in the offseason, adding depth and experience to their stable of starters. Snitker has other options, too, including Sean Newcomb, Bryse Wilson and Huascar Ynoa, so a careful approach to Soroka's 2021 debut would not be a surprise.
Soroka said it is important to understand his tendon "is as strong as it's going to be" only five months after surgery. Having undergone surgery in August, he is six months into his rehabilitation.
There are more tests to pass. He must show he can push off the mound to cover a bunt. He also must swing a bat and run out of the batter's box. Despite his optimism, Soroka acknowledged he can only "run a little bit."
"It's not where exactly I need to be," he said. "I need to get a little strength so I can come out of the gate hot."
Snitker avoided making a prediction on the date of Soroka's first start this season. Snitker said he will know more about the pitcher's timetable in about three weeks.
"I don't think it'd be fair to him or us to say he's not going to make the starting rotation, he's going to be delayed, he's going to do this or is going to do that," Snitker said.
Added Snitker: "We're just going to do what we can and see what transpires. ... Would you like to have him from the get-go? Absolutely. But I don't know that I can give you that answer right now."
Soroka has talked with two players who have made full recoveries from the surgery: Phillies outfielder Roman Quinn and St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright, a former Braves pitcher.
"Talking to those guys and understanding what I was going to go through, it didn't mean I was going to feel 100% at six months," he said.
Based on the advice from Quinn and Wainwright, Soroka expects to make big gains in the next two months. He began throwing on flat ground in November before progressing to a mound.
Motivation comes from his memories of watching on TV as his teammates advanced to the NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and came within one win of the World Series.
"One of the cooler and harder things I've ever had to do," he said. " Not to be there was pretty hard. When you're sitting on a couch at home, not throwing on your feet yet, it's a tough moment and it's not something I'm going to forget anytime soon."